Take The Money And Run and What’s Up, Tiger Lily?
Adventures at a Woody Allen film festival
This will be short. Manhattan should really have been it for me. I feel like I shot my wad on that post. I walked out of Film Forum on air after that screening, and I walked back yesterday as though I was wearing a lead hat. I hadn’t seen either of the films on the bill since I was a kid, the former at summer camp on Movie Night in 1976, and the latter on television when I cannot have been older than eleven. I suppose I didn’t want to harsh my perfect Meryl Streep-Mariel Hemingway stone with slapstick juvenilia.
Although, to give it its due, Take The Money And Run really holds up. It’s still hilarious. A well-constructed documentary into the life and mind of career criminal Virgil Starkweather (Allen), from his early days of stealing gumball machines and playing in the marching band (cello), to his numerous crimes (an illegible hold-up note that foils a bank job) and failed prison breaks (a revolver carved from soap that disappears into a handful of suds during his rainy night escape). The filmmaking is assured but touchingly seat-of-the-pants, which has as much to do with the budget as the years before the aesthetic tyrrany that reigns today that would deny someone like Giulietta Masina a career because she is as goofy looking as a female Keaton (Buster, not Diane). The congenitally hilarious Louise Lasser is one of Starkweather’s former neighbors who never once knew that a criminal mastermind was hiding in plain sight in their midst. “I actually believed he was an idiot,” she says. Throughout her cameo it appears as though she has an actual pimple on the end of her nose! It is completely endearing. Virgil meets and falls in love with a laundress played by crazily young Janet Margolin. She is all of 26 years-old in this. Poor thing died in 1993 of cancer at the age of fifty. The last thing I remember seeing her in was a muddled thriller called Last Embrace from 1979 with Roy Scheider that had to do with turn-of-the-century Lower East Side brothels and the young Jewish immigrant girls who were enslaved in same. I remember watching it as a teenager and being struck by nothing so much as the incongruity of Jews and sex, Scheider’s enviable chest and ropy biceps notwithstanding. My befuddlement wasn’t anything so large as internalized anti-Semitism, as much as a deeply localized self-loathing. I was thinking only of myself (what else is new?). I was tiny, uncomfortable in my skin, incipiently gay. Being Jewish and sexy seemed as essentially unmarriageable a combo as being Jewish and Republican.
Of course, I’m wrong. In the last year alone I’ve come across two men who go for what one of them refers to as “Heebcake.” And in the culture at large, there was a time when the People of the Book were seen as the very embodiment of id: all those melon-breasted, raven-haired Rebeccas and Allen himself as the living response to my fallacy. “Back When We Were Sexy,” might actually be the most fitting title for today’s, ahem, entry.
The opening credits for the 1966 What’s Up, Tiger Lily? make hay of the era’s Swinger aesthetic, with a cartoon Woody, all glasses and proboscis, pulling the text from the navels of Japanese go-go dancers. It’s a direct cashing in on the success of the previous year’s What’s New, Pussycat?
Tiger Lily is an extended sketch. A redubbing of a B spy thriller from Tokyo. I had forgotten, however, that the film screws itself at the very beginning by opening with a sequence wherein Allen lays out what we are about to see. Nothing like explaining a joke to really make it soar. (Which brings me to my two favorite jokes of late:
Control Freak, okaythisisthepartwhereyousaycontrolfreakwho?
A man is reading the paper on a Sunday afternoon when there’s a knock at the front door. Answering it, he sees there is no one there. Spying a snail on the front step, he picks it up and throws it back into the flower beds. Ten years later, another Sunday, another newspaper, another knock. He answers the door. No one there, but a snail, who says “What the fuck was that about?”)
Anyway, I can’t stay for the second feature (an oddly red-tinted print). I have to run home to wait once more, fruitlessly once more, for Earthlink. Three months into it, my phone calls still drop out at the most unforeseen and inopportune moments. If there were anything other than cold machinery involved, I’d describe it as deeply Freudian.